Awkward: How do you know when it is time to break up, and how do you end it?

By Summer Hoagland-Abernathy, Senior Editor

Ryan Brumback

You look around you and take in the decay — apples rotting on crunchy grass that has been flattened by autumn boots and leaves the color of fire, falling on your shoulders. You look at your partner, and you feel the same sense of rot.

Little Tawny’s Apple Orchard is closing for the season after today, and that’s why you said you wanted to come here with them. But there is another reason that has been tugging at your wool knit sweater. If you were going to break it off with your partner, this is the place you would want to do it.

You are not sure if that is what you want, though.

Sure, they have been late to every date you have planned for the past month because they had to stay late at work, are upset all the time because they are overwhelmed with their job, expect you to do all the housework because you have less going on and are always “too busy” to talk about these issues with you.

But is that enough for a breakup? You want it to be. Is a month enough time to wait this out? If you don’t talk about the situation, it will get worse, but if you do talk about it, you feel there will be a heavy, cold air between the two of you.

How can you know when it’s time to leave a relationship, and when it’s time, how do you end it? The Chronicle spoke with relationship and etiquette experts to address these issues.

Catalina Lawsin, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist specializing in sex and relationships at her private practice, said weighing the pros and the cons of the relationship will be different for every couple. Age, the length of the relationship and what point of their life someone is in are all factors.

“One of the hardest things for people to decide is when to leave, and I think the number one thing is to expect that it isn’t easy, and it’s only [your] decision,” Lawsin said. “The longer you stay in ambivalence, the more stressful that is.”

Lawsin said the longer you stay in this “purgatory,” the more stuck you get, and you begin to lose confidence in your choices. If you have been feeling stuck, start building your confidence back up by making smaller, less threatening choices every day.

Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette, a social and business etiquette consulting agency, said regardless of the amount of time you have been together, the person deserves the respect of a non-text or non-sticky note breakup.

“Try to keep it brief because emotions are going to come up,” Tsai said. “Just [say, for example], ‘Hey, this is what I’m feeling, and I don’t think we’re a good fit anymore. Thank you for everything we’ve been through. I wish you the best. I really care about you, and I hope you take care of yourself.’”

Tsai said you should let your partner know why you want to break up, so they do not question themselves over everything. She said to make sure you set solid boundaries, too. Whether it’s no contact at all or just no social media, you both need time to heal.

However, both Tsai and Lawsin said abusive relationships work under a different set of rules.

“If somebody has experienced domestic abuse, then you’re going to want to make sure that you have a huge plan to get out of there, and you may not even actually do this face-to-face,” Lawsin said.

Regarding a non-abusive relationship, Tsai said try not to end on a bad note. A breakup may leave at least one of you feeling bitter or angry, but, ultimately, you shared time together, and “there’s good in that.”

“There’s so many factors that go into this that there is not one rule,” Lawsin said. “[Make sure you are] taking things on an individual basis, acknowledging where you are at and being honest with that and being compassionate with how you are perceiving where you are at.”

If you are in an abusive relationship, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 or text “START” to 88788.